At noon Tuesday, Nov. 30, waters along a 45-mile stretch of coastline that were closed to fishing because of last month’s oil spill off Huntington Beach, will welcome anglers again, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife announced Monday, saying testing showed consuming seafood from the area poses no risk to the public.
The closures that prohibited fishing between Seal Beach and San Onofre State Beach were put in place Oct. 3, with the boundaries expanded over the course of the initial few days as officials worked to assess the size and spread of the oil slick. They outlasted the beach closures called for after the spill by several weeks.
Between Oct. 14 and Nov. 3, seafood caught close to shore as well as further out were sampled to test for levels of chemicals known as polyaromatic hydrocarbons, which are found in oil and can gather in seafood people eat, “causing an increased risk for cancer and other adverse health conditions,” the Department of Fish and Wildlife said in a news release.
Hundreds of mussels and more than 350 finfish and invertebrates, representing 20 species, were among the sealife collected, officials said.
The samples, gathered with the help of commercial fishermen, were brought in for testing based on their potential for exposure to oil and whether they might accumulate it in their bodies, as well as “their importance to commercial, recreational and subsistence anglers, and for their representation of different feeding ecologies and habitat types within the closure zone,” agency spokeswoman Jordan Traverso added in an email.
While some sealife, such as fish and crustaceans, may be able to swim or move away quickly from oil and remove the chemicals from their bodies, others such as oysters, mussels and clams can’t.
“These species are more likely to retain PAHs that pose more of a human health risk,” Traverso emailed. “It can take weeks for these levels to show up, which is why sampling wasn’t done in the initial weeks of the response.”
On Monday, the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment, which performed the testing and analysis, recommended fishing and seafood eating could resume, saying “there is no further risk to public health from seafood consumption in the affected area.”
Terese Pearson, whose family runs Pearson’s Port in the Newport Back Bay, said Monday evening she was “elated” to hear the news that its fishing business could resume after weeks of going without the income it brought to the family’s seafood market in the bay.
Especially important is the timing, she said. The holidays are “such a huge time” for the business.
“We’ve been servicing the community for 53 years and bringing (seafood) for their holiday meals, their everyday meals,” Pearson said. “To be privileged enough to be the people that bring them their holiday meals that they share with friends and family has always been an honor for us, and for me personally, is a huge reason that we do this.
“I’m feeling so relieved,” she said, “that we are going to make so many people so happy.”